Now there's an idea: Using trade policy as leverage with China

Posted by mmcmullan on 12/11/2013

Have you noticed that press freedom in China is getting the squeeze? Being a journalist in a one-party state that heavily censors its media is not an easy task to begin with. But lately, it looks like the Chinese government is turning up the heat on foreign-based reporters.

We haven’t mentioned this story much on ManufactureThis, so if you haven’t been caught up on it yet: our bust. But it’s been gathering steam for a few weeks. Vice President Joe Biden met with concerned foreign journalists at the end of his two-day trip to Beijing, and it appears that the New York Times and Bloomberg, specifically, are being targeted for reporting on the vast wealth accumulated by the families of China’s ruling communist elite – a topic rarely if ever broached by China’s domestic news outlets.

Biden was empathetic. “Innovation thrives where people breathe freely, speak freely, are able to challenge orthodoxy, where newspapers can report the truth without fear of consequences,” said Diamond Joe.

But the vice president isn’t the only one to suggest that China’s approach to a free press is getting in the way of “innovation” (an economic buzzword if there ever was one). In fact, a Washington Post opinion – coauthored by that paper’s former executive editor and the current president of Columbia University – suggests that tying protections of journalists to trade pacts is the way to go:

On behalf of leading U.S. digital technology companies, the U.S. trade representative filed a formal inquiry two years ago with the WTO to address China’s Internet censorship. Congress has mandated an annual compliance report on China and the WTO. A meaningful next step would be for Washington to insist that regional and bilateral trade agreements commit all parties to the free flow of information and ideas integral to trade and investment.

It’s an interesting idea. After all, the argument could be made (natch, we made it) that the massive trade deficit we run with China keeps its military and sophisticated cyber-warfare programs flush with cash. We’re essentially rewarding the Chinese government’s bad behavior by continuing a favorable trade relationship. We can just add “intimidating journalists” to the pile of reasons we should revisit that relationship.

Not this year, though. It’s looking like our 2013 trade deficit with China will be larger than 2012’s record:

Maybe next year? Read the whole Washington Post opinion here.

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